Posted on March 22, 2024

Complaint Alleges University of Wisconsin DEI Czar, Husband of Harvard’s DEI Chief, Has Decades-Long History of Research Misconduct

Aaron Sibarium, Washington Free Beacon, March 21, 2024

The chief diversity officer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, LaVar Charleston, who also teaches at the university’s school of education, has a decades-long track record of research misconduct, according to a complaint filed with the university on Wednesday and a Washington Free Beacon analysis. That misconduct includes presenting old studies as new research, which he has done at least five times over the course of his career.

The complaint, which was filed anonymously, implicates eight of Charleston’s publications, many of them coauthored, and accuses him of plagiarizing other scholars as well as duplicating his own work. It comes as the university is already investigating Charleston over a separate complaint filed in January, alleging that a 2014 study by him and his wife—Harvard University’s chief diversity officer, Sherri Ann Charleston—is a facsimile of a study he published in 2012.


In January, Charleston won a lifetime achievement award for “excellence in higher education.” The university trumpeted the award in a press release, praising his “unwavering dedication to creating inclusive environments in academia” and noting his “wealth of academic accolades.”

Charleston’s CV, however, appears to have been inflated by duplicate publication, the practice of publishing the same research in multiple journals without attribution. In 2014, for example, he published a pair of papers in two separate journals—the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and the Journal of Progressive Policy & Practice—that are near-verbatim copies of each other.

Both describe a 15-person focus group conducted by an African-American woman and feature identical quotes from participants, all of whom appear to have been recruited from the same academic conference.

Neither paper indicates the other was published elsewhere—a troubling omission, scholars who reviewed both studies said.


Charleston also appears to have recycled findings and interview responses from his 2010 dissertation, which involved a survey of black computer science students, in four subsequent papers: the 2012 and 2014 studies that were the subject of the previous complaint, as well as two additional studies published in 2016 and 2022.


Shortly after joining UW-Madison as a researcher in 2009, Charleston was charged in 2011 with attempting to strangle a police officer, according to documents obtained by the MacIver Institute, a conservative think tank in Wisconsin. He avoided a conviction through the Deferred Prosecution Program, a local initiative run by the district attorney’s office that offers first-time felons the chance to do community service in lieu of jail time and removes their arrest records from public databases.

“Even with a PhD, I’m looked at as a criminal,” Charleston said in an interview in 2020. “[I]t has to be because of my color.”

The arrest didn’t stop Charleston from climbing the ranks of the school’s diversity bureaucracy. Between 2010 and 2017, he helped to build Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory, which conducts research on “inclusive learning.” He became assistant vice chancellor of student diversity at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2017, then served as the inaugural dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at UW-Madison’s School of Education—the third-ranked education school in the country, according to US News and World Report. He became the chief diversity officer of the entire university in 2021.

Charleston is also a clinical professor of education, has led “anti-racism” workshops for Wisconsin public school teachers, and sits on the state’s Equity and Inclusion Council, which helps “advance diversity, equity, and inclusion practices across Wisconsin state government.”

The complaint calls into question the originality of the feted diversity scholar, who draws a $280,000 salary from UW-Madison and oversees tutoring services for students.


Both papers also share a prominent coauthor: Jerlando Jackson, now the dean of the Michigan State University College of Education, who advised Charleston’s dissertation at UW-Madison and also coauthored one of the studies based on it. The overlap raises additional questions about norms of academic integrity at education schools and within the field of DEI scholarship, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent months amid a drip-drip of plagiarism scandals.


The complaint also accuses Charleston of plagiarizing other scholars in his dissertation and some of his peer-reviewed papers, including the one from 2012. He lifts several passages from a Ph.D. thesis by Leslie Pendleton Graham, who earned her Ph.D. in counselor education in 1997, without citing her in a footnote or parentheses.

He also borrows from a dissertation by Craig Alan Green, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2008, without any sort of attribution.